The Boston International Festival of Women’s Cinema was founded in 1993 by Marianne Lampke, Connie White, and Anne Marie Stein. At the time, Lampke and White were the owners and operators of the Brattle Theatre, and Stein was the executive director of the Boston Film/Video Foundation. The festival continued until its 11th and final iteration in 2003, by which point all three had moved on from their aforementioned positions. Last month, the Brattle Theatre celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first BIFWC by screening a selection of films that were exhibited at the festival throughout its 11-year run. All three co-founders spoke to us individually on the eve of the Brattle’s anniversary program, and offered their memories about the festival’s history.
Connie White: We took over the Brattle in December of ‘86 and we reopened it in January of ‘87. In 1986, I was working at the Boston Film/Video Foundation. Marianne had been there for a few years, too.
Anne Marie Stein: When I started at the Boston Film/Video Foundation, I overlapped with Marianne and Connie for about one month. They had taken over the lease at the Brattle, and had given notice to BF/VF. I thought Connie and Marianne were great—we got along fantastically. I already knew them a little bit from my work as the production coordinator for the Massachusetts Council [on the Arts and Humanities]. When they started the festival, they called and asked if I wanted to partner with them—I said absolutely!
CW: At the time, the Brattle was not a non-profit. The Brattle was a mom-and-pop.
Marianne Lampke: We ran it as a quote-unquote “for profit”.
CW: So we wanted to partner with a non-profit organization in order to make the Women’s Festival more of a non-profit entity itself.
AMS: The institutional mission of BF/VF was to support independent film and video making, and to broaden public understanding of independent work. It offered a range of programs and services, including a regular screening series, education programs, a grant program (the New England Regional Fellowship)… and we put out a newsletter, which also had a lot of service information, in terms of grant deadlines and other opportunities for artists. BF/VF basically acted as a hub for filmmakers.
CW: My recollection is that when Marianne and I started running and programming the Brattle, we didn’t actually want to have an isolated festival of women’s cinema—we wanted to incorporate women-directed film into our regular programming. That was a priority. But once we got involved with the business, and understood how the business worked… [Connie laughs].
ML: I mean, we were showing films by women anyway, throughout the year. But we started thinking: what are some things we want to do beyond just running the Brattle as a repertory movie theater? The big thing we wanted to do was to have a showcase for women filmmakers. And we wanted to do it in the context of a festival.
When you’re showing 25 films in a one-week period, all directed by women filmmakers, often with female main characters … it puts things in a whole different context. It was a real opportunity for people to think about and talk about that [sensibility]—in ways that you wouldn’t do when you just see a single movie that happens to have a strong female sensibility once every five months.
AMS: There was a focus on finding feature-length narrative works by women directors. Because that was rarer. At that time, there were women in our community working on animation and documentary—but not so much features.
ML: The festival was a combination of documentary and narrative films, mostly feature-length, with an international slant. There were a lot of international filmmakers.
AMS: The real thing was to elevate the status of narrative films by women directors. That was the primary focus.
CW: We didn’t want to quote-unquote “ghettoized” films directed by women, but we realized that there was very much a need for a women’s festival. We needed to celebrate it, spotlight it, and emphasize it.
ML: We had been running the Brattle since 1986. And seven years into running it, we were taking note of the fact that there weren’t a lot of female business owners who were running movie theaters, or who were in the film exhibition world. And we felt a sense of responsibility towards highlighting films by women.
CW: There was an American independent [scene] burgeoning.
MS: In my experience, one thing that came from the New England Regional Fellowship and BF/VF both… I didn’t totally realize the privilege of this at the time, but because of having that funding program, and that exhibition program, it was very easy for us to see who was coming out of school, and what work they were doing.
ML: There was an movement happening within Anerican independent filmmaking in general: the emergence of queer cinema; the emergence of women filmmakers; the boutique film distributors that were starting to come into play…
CW: I was the booker for the festival, which was my job at the Brattle, too. There’s programming and there’s booking: Programming is selecting the films you want, and booking is actually getting them. It’s not like you can just open the Sundance catalogue and say okay, I’ll take one of these, one of these, and one of these. So we would always program together, and then I was booking the films, for both the Brattle and the festival. At that time, Marianne was doing media, PR, talent relations—and she ran the books, payroll, the business side of it. Anne Marie provided the non-profit side…
AMS: They did the programming—we [BF/VF] were really an institutional partner. We provided whatever support we could through our mailing lists, our community, and our institutional relationships. The support of the distributors, to go back to that, was really interesting. Because there was always the question of what was premiering when and where… what could have its world premiere, and what could have its Boston premiere—those things were always very carefully orchestrated.
ML: At the time, if you got Miramax films, you were like, oh my God, we were able to get a couple of Miramax films in this festival. In the context of women’s filmmaking, that’s a true irony.
CW: Yeah. October Films, Fine Line, Fox Searchlight, they were all big supporters of ours… and, I mean, Miramax… Miramax had a lot of good films.
ML: Miramax, Fine Line, and Sony Pictures Classics—those were some of the key ones.
CW: There were also a lot of small indie distributors that weren’t associated with the studios. Like Zeitgeist Films, Kino, Women Make Movies, IFC Films… there were a lot of non-studio affiliated distributors. And a lot of those little indies are still around—like Strand Releasing, or First Run Features. They had big home video markets, and now they have streaming.
ML: We’d show packages of short films, too. I remember seeing a short film by Lisa Cholodenko, and I remember thinking, from that one short, wow, that’s a great filmmaker. Two or three years later, she comes out with High Art , which I think is an incredible, breakthrough film… and that’s why I bring up the short films: you would see some of the filmmakers making them go on to make feature films next. And then you’d see those feature films get picked up by some of these boutique distributors. And then you’d see them reach a pretty strong art-film audience.
CW: Mary Harron made I Shot Andy Warhol , Sofia Coppola made The Virgin Suicides … there was so much exciting work being done by women.
ML: I remember when The Virgin Suicides came out. It was Sofia Coppola’s first feature, and now we see how she evolved. That’s a great movie. [The films that played in the Brattle’s anniversary program] are all great movies—like Chocolat , by Claire Denis.
CW: Claire Denis came to the festival! My goodness. Amazing.
ML: I Shot Andy Warhol is one of my all-time favorites. After seeing I Shot Andy Warhol, Lili Taylor was my favorite actress for at least the next three years.
CW: When we were programming in the old days, we knew who our audience was: the ‘progressive Cambridge community’. We were often programming socially-conscious films, gay & lesbian films—and lesbian films particularly, with the Women’s Festival. But women weren’t just making films about women. The idea wasn’t to be a festival for “women’s stories”. You know, women were making American Psycho  (also directed by Mary Harron). Women were making some really violent movies, that you wouldn’t think of as representing a women’s sensibility, if you were being limited about what a women’s sensibility is. It was very diverse, in terms of filmmaking.
CW: We ran the Brattle for 14 years. We had a four-year lease when we took over, and then we renewed it for another ten years. And when we came to the end of that second lease, we were ready to move on. In 2001, Marianne and I sold the Brattle Theatre to Ned [Hinkle] and Ivy [Moylan], who then took it over and turned it into a non-profit. Which is what needed to be done to that theater.
We left in May, so we got through the festival in 2001. In 2002, we decided to spread it out—we did festival screenings at both the Coolidge and the Brattle. We were trying to expand it a little bit, because it had been tied to the Brattle. I had moved to Amherst in 2003, and by then, I was ready to move on.
ML: When people asked why it stopped, I always reference Spinal Tap : we got it to 11 years—”it goes to 11”. I would’ve been upset if it only got to 10.
AMS: I remember the 10th anniversary. One of the big questions we always debated—it would come up every once in a while, especially near the end—was is there really a need for a women’s film festival? That was the question that would come back. Have women [filmmakers] gotten to the point where that is not a necessity? And I think it’s interesting, right now, to be looking back at that question, while thinking about #MeToo, and what’s going on in Hollywood. You think about the importance of recognizing the achievements of women in the film industry. And the many women who are working independently. It could have gone on, I think.
CW: We were always kind of hoping that somebody else would take it on. We had meetings with some people. But it just didn’t happen.
ML: It was a very time-intensive, financially-intensive project. We were able to get through it, and make it work, but it was a struggle… I think it’s sometimes good to put closure on things. I feel really good about the era we did that festival in. It was the perfect era for it. And with everything going on today, I think [the anniversary] is remarkably timely.
Women’s films do have a different sensibility, which we’re starting to talk about now, more than before, with the whole #MeToo movement. I think right now everybody’s saying, you know, how can women be more empowered in Hollywood? But it’s deeper than that. I think it also has to do with an aesthetic—I believe that female filmmaking is distinctive. And I think it [requires] moviegoers to approach films in a way that’s different from what they’re used to.
Connie White currently works as a film buyer for independent art houses and film festivals, primarily through her company Balcony Booking.
Marianne Lampke currently manages publicity for the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and continues to do other work in the nonprofit sector outside the film industry as well.
Anne Marie Stein is currently the Dean of Professional and Continuing Education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Comments have been edited and condensed.